Pearl millet is a C4 plant and major coarse millet well adopted for hot and arid regions of the world and it have place of prominence.
Its tolerance to drought, heat and soil salinity along with its higher water use efficiency makes it a climate-smart crop.
Pearl millet [(Pennisetum glaucum (L) R. Emend Stuntz] is one of the most important among the millets or nutritious coarse grain cereals crops. It is still a dependable cereals and a major source of dietary energy for a large number of peoples.
It gives sufficient energy to the field workers at a very low cost. Thus it is called “Poorman’s food’. It is used mainly as whole, cracked or ground flour, dough, or grain-like rice.
This also used for making fermented breads, foods and thick porridges, steam cooked dishes, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks.
It provides feed to large number of animals and grown for silage and hay purpose also. Crop residue and green plants provide building materials for fencing, thatching and making basketry.
The pearl millet grains have a biological value similar to wheat and rice and impart substantial energy to body. Its nutritive values designated pearl millet as ‘nutri-cereals’ and are excellent nutritious food for those who are habituated to this food.
Millets are easy to digest, contain a high amount of lecithin and are excellent for strengthening the nervous system.
Its cultivation in general confined to poor and marginal lands with no or very less supplies of with costly inputs like improved cultivars, fertilizers, plant protection chemicals as compared to crops like rice, maize, sorghum etc. of the same season in this country.
Being a drought evading crop, it can cut short of its life cycle and comes to flowering and is having the characteristics of maturity within 40 to 60% of its actual life cycle period.
Production Statistics: In India alone, 90% of the world and in Rajasthan 45 % of country’s total pearl millet is grown.
In Rajasthan, it is grown on 5.02 m ha of area (only 2% area is under irrigation) with a production of 4.59 mt while it is grown on 8.78 mha (only 8.5% area is under irrigation) with a production of 10.28 mt as a country as whole (Agricultural Statistics at a glance 2013, Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Directorate of Economics and Statistics).
The other states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharastra grow pearlmillet but their contribution is less than 1.0 lakh ha., individually. The districts of Rajasthan those grows pearlmillet have a cropping intensity less than 120 %.
It has lower productivity in comparison to other cereals because exclusion of costly inputs under aberrant weather conditions in view of unsecure returns.
Adaptation of pearl millet: Pearl millet is grown in drought prone areas where it performs better than other cereals. It is generally grown in in areas facing frequent drought like Rajasthan and parts of adjoin states in the country.
Pearl millet has a drought mechanism by efficient photosynthesis and rapid translocation of food materials from source to sink. Pearl Millet highly tolerant to high temperature, adaptable to poor soil, low vulnerability to disease and insect, pests and has good nutritive value.
Similarly, summer cultivation is confined only assured irrigation condition to maintain continuity in production where strong dust storms and hot desiccating winds are common.
Characteristics features of soils: As it is mainly grown in western Rajasthan where growing medium or soils are sandy to sandy loam having following features
- Low in organic matter;
- Low in N and P contents;
- Medium in K content;
- Low water holding capacity;
- High permeability for water;
- Crust formation; and
- The undulating topography with movable sand dunes.
These prevailing climatic and edaphic factors limits the production of crop starting from germination to harvesting and crops fails to express its production potential.
The undulating topography and movable sand dunes remove the top fertile soils along with obstruct mechanization ultimately increases cost of cultivation and decreased crop yield.
The insecure return averts the farmers to invest the latest technologies developed for higher production for marketable surplus.
Thus, in this article I have tried to elaborate the possible agronomical constraints for higher production and their possible strategy to overcome these constrains:
Agronomical constraints and strategies:
Soil conditions: As described earlier, the soil are loose and sandy to sandy loam with low organic matter content and low water holding capacity. The soils are alkaline and underlying with hard calcareous pan.
These soils develop a crust under situations like light rainfall just after sowing. As we aware, all these features are very important for production. These properties of soils can be improved by using zypsum or any amendment used for reclamation or adding well rotten FYM or locally available green leaf manures.
Similarly, leveling once is costlier but long lasting. Bund surrounding the field provide more opportunity time for water to infiltrate and improve the physical, chemical and biological condition of soil.
Improve soil fertility: The fertility status as described, the farmers add fresh or under decomposed cow dung which is available in plenty, apply directly from shed to field inspite of availability of sufficient time for decomposition (sowing to next sowing).
Farmers in these areas follow blind application of urea and DAP without considering cropping history and imbalanced nutrients cause considerable reduction and increase cost of prodcution.
Recent research finding showed that sulphur is fourth most nutrients required followed by N, P and K. The requirement of S is almost equal to P. Thus the productivity status may be improved by following soil test based application of nutrients.
These practices will sustain the productivity and reduced the cost of cultivation. A simple step that if farmers use SSP as a source of P instead of DAP will supplies S also and superior from availability of nutrients and per unit cost of nutrient point of view. So to crop really gave a boost in production and gain surplus for market.
Seed: Seed is a critical input and timely availability of improved seed is a major cause of reduction in production of pearl millet in rainfed areas.
The impact of climate change is clearly visualized as the number of rainy days are reduced considerably. Also the distribution of monsoon, onset of monsoon etc cause considerable effect on selection of crop and the varieties.
The farmers of rainfed areas prefer to grow their traditional seed (seed from previous crop) that’s potential reduce year by year because of more and more intensity in seed borne disease like ergot and green year.
Approximately 200 varieties of pearlmillet have been developed since 1960 suited to different cropping situations but the SRR is very less in case of rainfed farmers. With the development of early maturing and hybrid varieties suited to different weather aberrations, some promising cultivars like HHB 67-Improved, RHB 161, MH 169, HHB 234, CZP 9802 may change the scenario of the state if they are cost effective and available on time.
The variety like ICTP-8203 (Dhanshakti) have high iron content and some states promoted to grow for removal of malnutrition (iron deficiency or anemia). The composition of amino acids like lysine, threonine and methionine were inversely correlated and leucine, isolucine and tryptophane were positively correlated with the protein contents.
It also provides more zinc, is high yielding and is disease and drought tolerant.
Water management: As discussed earlier the quality of water is poor and quantity is scare on one hand side by side undulating topography, high water permeability on other hand are major constraints.
The ground water table is very deep on one side and its poor quality (Brackish) on the other side also multiply the constraints. The possible solution is frequent but light irrigation by sprinkler system for irrigated farmers or irrigation as lifesaving from adjoin farmer or water from water harvesting structure.
The initial investment is higher so farmer can’t afford so it should be available at subsidized prize to get higher production per unit water use. For rainfed farmers, adding manures will improve the water holding capacity of soils.
Crust formation: Crust is locally known as ‘Rod’ and develop if no rains or light rain after sowing of crop affect the emergence of seedlings resulted in poor and non-uniform plant population due to crust formation.
A device made up of rubber having 4 kg weight wheel attached behind the tines of seed drill to make better contact of seed with moisture will boost up germination and emerge the seed early as compared to normal sowing.
Similarly, the problem may be reduced by using surface mulch.
Disease management: A considerable loss in production caused by diseases like ergot and green ear and insect like grasshopper. Bird damage at the time of grain filling and maturity also lower the production considerably.
Ergot can be managed by adopting seed treatment with brine solution or seed replacement that is a non-monetary input. The extent of grasshopper may be reduced by adopting cleanliness.
Thus adoption of improved package of practices, crop insurances against natural calamities, availability of quality seed etc. enhance the production of pearl millet without much addition in cost of cultivation.
The developmental effort should be made through popularizing the newly released varieties among the farmers so they replace the low yielding local varieties. Now-a-days hybrids are the most common cultivars types used commercially in pearl millet and form an important component in improving the productivity after follow the adoption of low cost and site specific précised agronomic practices.
Thus the role of non or low monetary inputs such as line sowing, optimum row spacing, depth of seeding, optimum plant population per unit area, timely cultural practices for higher productivity should be enhanced the productivity.
Agronomic research should bring out efficient low-cost technology which is within the means of farmers and easy to adopt.
Lokesh Kumar Jain, Assistant Professor (Agronomy)
College of Agriculture, Sumerpur, (Pali)-Rajasthan